A Night at the Operaby MeaPortia
Part 1 (2008)
Part 2 (2008)
Part 3 (2008)
Part 4 (2008)
Part 5 (2008)
Part 6 (2008)
Chapter 2The Chief had declared emergency rehearsals due to major deviations from the original blocking, and the cast was polishing the newly-modified opera. Used to difficult steps and technical maneuvers, the dancers except for Celes and Ralse were bogging down in the simplicity of the dance.
"Maestro," the stage master called to the orchestra pit, "if you please, let's work on the wedding waltz in Act II again."
"We'll start at the triplets."
"Perfect." The stage manager and the Chief watched as the dancers took their places. "Remember the new steps, everyone, and keep the focus on Maria and Ralse."
The orchestra began playing the waltz, and for a moment everything looked like it would go smoothly. Everyone moved on the beat, the music was at the perfect tempo, and for one brief moment it actually looked good if somewhat minimalistic.
And then there came the stage manager's nasal voice. "One-two-three, one-two-three, Ma-ri-aa, you'reonthewrongside!"
The other dancers stopped and groaned in disgust as the Chief clapped his hands loudly. "Everyone, take a ten minute break. Maria, come here, dear."
Celes sighed and walked over to where the Chief was massaging his temples. Being called by another woman's name was really starting to grate, as was the pervasive feeling of failure. For just a moment, she longed for the feeling of competency that she'd felt as a general before everything went to hell. Before Maranda, and before she got wind of Kefka's plan to poison Doma.
"You're doing better," the Chief said, surprising her. "Lots better, in fact. You've learned a lot in the past two days. No matter what Draco says, the aria is coming along nicely."
"So here's my plan, which was suggested by our good friend Ralse." The Chief shot a glare at Ralse, who in return gave him a grin and returned to chatting up the dark haired girl playing first clarinet. The Chief turned back to Celes and sighed. "I've never had to do this, but I'm going to give you free reign."
"What? What do you mean?"
"We're going to adapt to you. If you make a mistake, we'll just follow your lead." He looked up at her, the tired look in his eyes making him look older than he actually was. "So please, for the love of everything holy, don't make us look bad."
"And you're doing this because..."
"Maria and I consider this a personal favor." The Chief looked over his shoulder and then back to Celes. "This Setzer guy has been a thorn in our side for months. He's infatuated with poor Maria, made her a nervous wreck. It's made all of us nervous wrecks." The man pulled a flask out of his pocket and drained it in three long pulls. "Plus, after we talked about it, your friends over there offered to compensate us in case this opera bombs."
Celes looked over to where the Chief had jerked his thumb. Locke, Edgar, and Sabin tried to look as innocent as possible. Locke and Sabin gave cheery waves and Edgar winked. The beginnings of a smile began to play on Celes' face. "All right. I won't let you down."
"Good. Do you think you can do this?"
"I have no doubt."
The Chief put a hand to his forehead and sighed. "At the very least, it'll all be over tomorrow night."
After a gruelling practice, Celes retired to her dressing room. She had no idea that being an "opera floozy" was such hard work. Her feet hurt, her mouth was dry, her throat was sore, and she was wearing another woman's too-tight stays.
She opened the door silently to see her three companions lounging. Sabin had fallen asleep on the red velvet divan, accompanied by gentle snores. Edgar was reading the score, his right hand making miniature conductor movements as he followed the notes. And Locke was looking at the spare costumes in Maria's trunk, pausing to examine an outfit or hold a piece of costume jewelry up to the light.
"You'd think," Locke said absentmindedly, "that they could afford some of the real thing once in a while."
"Indeed," Edgar concurred, busy reading the harpist's solo.
"It seems like with all the problems in the world, people would be heading here in droves for a little escapist fun."
"The Dream Oath is hardly escapist fun. Sure it's got some funny parts here and there, but it's mostly about war and death."
Locke stopped rummaging through Maria's costumes. "Then why don't they put something on that doesn't have to do with war and death?"
"It's the opera, Locke. They all have to do with war and death."
"If they want to stop losing business to the burlesque theaters, they'd better put something funny on. This place is gonna be dead tomorrow night."
"You'd be surprised."
Celes cleared her throat and watched with amusement as she startled Locke and Edgar. "I hate to interrupt," she told them as they scrambled to their feet, "but I'm going to change clothes."
"I think you look ethereal, Miss Celes," Edgar said with his trademark ladykiller smile, although it didn't reach his eyes.
Locke looked flabbergasted for a moment and then remembered to speak. "Oh, yeah, you look fine as you are, Celes. Great, even. Pretty. Pretty great, that is." The treasure hunter turned bright red and started smoothing out his hair.
Edgar saw that Celes wasn't moving and that she just stood there, smiling. He knew when to give up.
"Locke, help me get Sabin up. We should give the lady some privacy."
"Thank you," Celes said as the two men began waking the monk. They led the still-groggy Sabin out and the former general shut the door after them.
She would have, actually, had Locke not stuck his foot between the door and the frame. "You really do look nice," he told her as she tried to shut the door.
"I'll be out in a bit."
"Okay, we'll be-"
The door shut and Locke found himself face-to-face with the dark wainscoting of the opera doors. "We'll be out here," he finished. "Just in case you need us."
The day of the opera arrived. Once again the small Returner band had gathered in the dressing room to plan.
"The Chief said that Setzer will probably try his stunt at the climax of the story. When is that?"
Edgar thought for a moment and then thumbed through the score to double-check his guess. "Probably at the duel. After Draco and the West's survivors raid Maria's castle, Draco and Ralse challenge each other to a duel for Maria's hand."
"You've seen this before?" Celes asked.
"About four times. It's a staple of any opera troupe's repertoire, and we've had a few come through Figaro."
"So," Locke said, "how are we going to do this? How is this 'Wandering Whoever' going to grab Celes?"
Edgar shut the score and looked out at the stage from the dressing room's open door. "Setzer has an airship, so that means that he can either come in here on foot or..." He stopped, looked up at the ceiling, and shrugged. "Or he could cut a hole in the roof."
Celes gave the king a disbelieving stare. "A hole in the roof."
"If this guy's half as flashy as the Chief says, he won't be happy to just jump up on the stage and pull you away."
"Can someone even cut through the roof?"
"He could do it, if he had the proper tools. It doesn't need to be a big hole to get two people through. If he's my size, all he'll need is two and a half feet or so of width."
Locke looked up at the roof. It was a good twenty-five feet from the catwalk to the stage, and probably forty from the roof to the stage. "If he is going to do something like that, he's going to need-"
The treasure hunter turned back to his friends and grinned. "I think I know how we can get aboard the airship after he nabs you, Celes."
"If he's going to interrupt the opera by kidnapping you, he's going to want to do it in a way where he can make a quick getaway. Edgar's right - he's going to have to come through the roof. I don't know anything about airships - do you, Edgar?"
"A little. I've looked at blueprints for some. Why?"
"He's going to have to hold Celes somehow, right? And if she was the real Maria, she'd be kicking and screaming. So," Locke said as he moved over to Celes, "he can't hand-over-hand his way back up to the ship." The treasure hunter pantomimed wrapping his arm around Celes' waist and trying to climb up a rope or ladder. "He's going to need a rope and a winch or a pulley of some kind. That's possible, isn't it?"
"Absolutely," Edgar said, nodding. "In fact, we sell the new hydraulic drum winches in South Figaro. It also means that while he's here, there has to be someone at the helm. While he's distracted with telling them where to go, we can sneak aboard if Miss Celes drops a rope back down for us. We can climb up while he takes off or ascends or what-have-you."
In the corner, Sabin crossed his arms. "Can we all make it up? I mean, there's got to be at least 500 pounds between the three of us."
"If he's using one of our industrial-grade winches, he can hold up to three times our weight," Edgar said confidently. "I'm sure we'll be fine."
An assistant stage manager poked his head into the dressing room from the stage doorway. "Ah, Maria? You're needed for the dress rehearsal in ten minutes."
"Thank you. I'll be right out."
Locke looked up at Celes and noticed that he was still pantomiming holding her around the waist. He stood up and back-pedalled, blushing all the way. "If you need something, just let us know."
"Thank you, Locke."
The three men exited the dressing room and found the Chief pacing outside.
"Do you think this is going to work?" the worried opera manager asked.
"Seems like it," Locke said, his blush fading. "I think we've got the logistics figured out."
The impresario continued to pace. Locke and Edgar took seats on a black velvet divan similar to the kind in Celes' dressing room. Sabin looked around and finally approached the Chief.
"Ah, do you have a concession stand or something around here?"
"Hm? Oh, I'm sorry. Yes, downstairs and hidden off to the right. I don't know if they're open, but help yourself if they aren't."
Sabin trotted downstairs, starving. People ate such small portions in Jidoor, and he'd give anything for some roasted walnuts.
Edgar watched his brother run off in search of food - some things never changed - and looked back at Locke. "I guess we're just waiting until showtime, then."
"Looks like it."
"I wonder if Miss Celes needs any help getting dressed."
Locke gave Edgar a withering glare and the Chief was too consumed in his own worry to hear much of anything going on around him.
The king shrugged. "What? I'm just trying to be helpful."